Saturday November 30, 2013
We all love New Orleans. Like, crazy, mad, wish-I-could-marry-a-city love, right? But sometimes a little trip out of town does a body good, and South Louisiana has so much to offer beyond the city limits.
(How can that even be possible? We don't know. It's the best place in the world and those of us who live here don't really understand how anyone can live anywhere else.)
So indulge me, friends, while I suggest to you a simple single day's trip over and back to a sweet little Cajun town on the banks of the Bayou Teche: Breaux Bridge. Here's an itinerary that should delight even the most staid urbanite, and it only takes a single Saturday to achieve:
8:00 am - Leave New Orleans and head West on I-10.
10:00 am - Pull off at Exit 109 and head into downtown Breaux Bridge. Get your dancing shoes on and head on over to the Cafe des Amis for zydeco breakfast: live music and a hot menu of South Louisiana breakfast delicacies. Try the oreilles de cochon (a beignet stuffed with boudin, a rice-and-pork sausage, and sprinkled with powdered sugar) or the Big Hat Omelette, which comes smothered with crawfish etouffee. Dance away any caloric concerns you might have.
11:30 am - Take a slow stroll down Bridge Street, checking out the numerous antique and gift shops. The Breaux Bridge Antique Mall tends to be an excellent source for all manner of quirky treasures, but it's chock-full, so take your time browsing.
1:00 pm - Hungry again yet? As if that ever stopped us anyway. Hop in the car and head over to Glenda's Creole Kitchen, a hole-in-the-wall Creole soul food restaurant that gained international attention when local artist and chef Toby Rodriguez brought Anthony Bourdain here in the Cajun country episode of No Reservations. Bourdain swooned. So will you. Get your Creole meatloaf or smothered pork chops to go.
1:30 pm - Head on out to the gorgeous and picturesque Lake Martin. Set yourself up at the boat launch with an informal lakefront tailgate and dig into your lunch while you watch for birds and gators.
2:00 pm - Now that you're stuffed (again), catch up with the nice fellas from Champagne's Swamp Tours and head out on their boat for a couple of hours. Alternatively, rent a canoe or kayak of your own and paddle through the lake all by your lonesome. Just, uh, mind the gators.
Friday November 29, 2013
New Orleans is a pretty easy town to move around in. Between cheap and plentiful taxis, the famous streetcars, and the flat-as-a-pancake terrain, which makes walking and biking super-easy, there's no reason that a visitor should get stuck in the immediate neighborhood around their hotel.
Still, the home base you choose can change the flavor of your vacation. Where you go to sleep and start your day does set a tone for everything that happens in between, so it's worth doing a bit of research.
Many visitors prefer to be right at the center of the action, which is why the French Quarter tends to be the first choice for lots of tourists. Foodies and culture vultures, however, might prefer the Central Business District, an area that isn't as interesting in terms of nightlife but happens to be home to most of the city's fine dining restaurants and a good portion of its museums and galleries.
The style of accommodations that you prefer can also dictate which neighborhood is right for you. If you don't plan on spending much time in your room and just want it to be clean and efficient, you might be happy with one of the relatively cheap (but admittedly uninteresting) chain hotels in the CBD. If cocktails on the veranda and hobnobbing with fellow travelers is more your speed, one of the Garden District's luxe historic inns might be right for you.
For more help in deciding which New Orleans neighborhood is the right one to call home during your next visit, read on: Which New Orleans Neighborhood Should I Stay In?
Corn Stalk Fence Detail © Rian Castillo, Creative Commons via Flickr
Friday November 22, 2013
It's become relatively familiar advice to New Orleans visitors in the past couple of decades: go see Bourbon Street, but don't spend your whole trip there. It's repeated frequently because, well, it's true.
Bourbon Street is like nothing else you've ever seen. It's a 24-hour party every day of the year, with open drinking, noisy music, plenty of flesh on display, and other hedonistic delights. Everyone should see it once and take at least a small part in the party. Great fun, really.
And in a way, it's a quintessential travel bucket list sort of experience. But it is not New Orleans at its most beautiful or its most authentic.
Nope, it's mostly tourists out for a good time. The only locals you're likely to meet on Bourbon are your bartenders or other service staff. The music in the clubs is largely cheesy made-for-tourists schlock (there are exceptions, no question, but the bulk ain't great). The cocktails are overpriced and the food is decidedly unimpressive. And let's be honest here: it kind of smells bad.
Indeed, "Get Off Bourbon Street" is some of the best advice any New Orleans visitor can get, but like so many bits of sage travel wisdom, it's easier said than done. Get off Bourbon Street and go... where?
There are easy enough answers to this question of you're not really into the bar scene at all. New Orleans is home to dozens of wonderful (and quirky) museums, several gorgeous parks, the best live jazz and Cajun/zydeco in the world, and so much more.
If you do dig the bar scene, but you'd prefer higher-quality cocktails, better live music, or just an environment that contains fewer bachelor partying frat bros and the cougars who love them, there are other options for you. Good food, good music, and good drinks, all with a local flair. Find those things here: Three Great Alternatives to Bourbon Street
Image © Sal Taylor Kidd / Creative Commons via Flickr
Friday November 15, 2013
Let's not kid ourselves. The French Quarter, like its soul sisters Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip, is designed to dazzle tourists into leaving all of their money behind. Gorgeous hotels, fancy restaurants, and cocktails that cost more than most of us make in an hour are everywhere you look, and really, it's often worth the expense.
Still, it's not always necessary to drop a month's paycheck on a day's food in New Orleans. Whether you're traveling on a budget or just want something a little bit less fancy for a change, the French Quarter has lots of good options.
Po-boys are pretty easy to come by, and cheap, though some po-boy shops give you a better bang for your buck than others. I'm partial to the Verti Marte, which sits just across from the famous haunted Lalaurie mansion, and I adore Johnny's Po-Boys, not just for sammiches, but also for breakfast.
When I'm in the Quarter with a few friends, one of my favorite cheap lunches is a New Orleans classic: a muffuletta from the famous Central Grocery. They're enormous fat round sandwiches, so they're really easy to share. I'm a big eater, and a half is more than enough for me. If bags of chips are involved (local favorites Zapp's, of course -- my favorite are the Dill Gator-Tator flavor), I only need a quarter of the sandwich.
Also, don't forget one of New Orleans' best food-and-bev combo deals: crispy beignets and a creamy café au lait from the 150-year-old Café du Monde coffee shop. It'll run you less than $5 total, though it's cash-only, so don't forget to bring some. They're also open 24 hours. And for my money, there's nothing better to absorb a stomach full of Hurricanes and Purple Drank than a sugary plate o' beignets, so if you're up late and need a little help in that department, head there.
And if all else fails, there's always Lucky Dogs. They're greasy, sure, but they're strangely delicious, especially when you're two or three or six Big-Ass Beers into the evening. Plus, they're easy to find. Just look for the giant hot dog.
For even more French Quarter cheap eats, read on: 10 Great Cheap Restaurants in the French Quarter
Lucky Dogs Image © Megan Romer, 2013 / Licensed to About.com